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7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

For most of us, the experience of studying for an exam can be captured in one word: panic. You’ve got 18 hours, exhausted, and sitting there staring at an equations sheet full of gibberish. Whyyy? Why didn’t I start earlier?

Believe it or not, there are forces acting against you, pulling you away from starting early enough so that you can comfortably learn new material. Here are 7 of the most insidious reasons why you don’t start early, and what you can do about it.

1. You’re anticipating hard work

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    Procrastination is generally viewed as this guilt-ridden character defect shared almost universally by all students. The problem is, this is exactly what we should expect to happen from an evolutionary perspective.

    Humans are known to be cognitive misers: we conserve mental resources whenever possible, especially when facing tasks not viewed as “essential to our survival.”

    In other words, we put off studying until the last minute because (1) we know the work is hard and will require a lot of mental energy, and (2) until there’s the threat of actually failing the exam (and therefore potentially being humiliated publicly) we’re not in enough emotional pain to motivate us to start studying.

    Additionally, when your brain anticipates multiple outcomes that are all viewed as “painful” (the pain of studying vs. the pain of failing out of college) you become immobilized, unable to choose the lesser of two evils, and push off the work even further.

    Schedule in time for yourself first and then fill in the gaps with study time.

    As Niel Fiore discusses in bestselling classic, The Now Habit, part of the reason you procrastinate is because you see no end in site.

    Think of the difference between a 100 yard dash and a marathon. In the first case you’re able to give maximum effort because you can see the finish line and know it will be over soon. The marathon runner is not so lucky. They know there’s a long road ahead filled with pain and exhaustion, and subconsciously conserve their effort to ensure they can make it through all 26.2 miles.

    This is all to say, if you know you get to go hang out in your buddy’s dorm room and goof off for an hour after you study, you’re much more likely to want to invest that energy.

    As a side benefit, you end up taking advantage of Parkinson’s Law. Because your work expands to fill the time allotted, by scheduling less time for studying, you actually become more productive and focused.

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    2. You’re sleep deprived

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      Who in college isn’t pounding the caffeine?

      Students who force themselves through weeks upon weeks of 4-6 hour sleep nights, are significantly deteriorating two aspects of their mental performance critical to studying for exams: motivation and vigilance.

      Studies show that poor sleep negatively impacts motivation. But really, no one needs a study to tell them how much worse your outlook on life is when you’re low on sleep.

      And vigilance, the ability to maintain concentrated attention over prolonged periods of time, is also significantly reduced during a period of either acute (staying up all night studying), or chronic (cutting sleep short for multiple days) sleep deprivation.

      Set yourself an end-of-the-day alarm.

      Yes, studying more consistently for shorter chunks will allow you to spread it over a longer period of time; therefore, preventing the need to deprive yourself of sleep just to get your coursework done. But really, it’s a psychological issue.

      There are a million things we’d rather stay up and do, than go right to bed after a full day of classes, only to have to get up and do the same thing over again. This is a chicken/egg problem: if I don’t get sleep I procrastinate studying, but if I go to bed I’ll just have to get up and study. Again, lose-lose. We need to break the cycle.

      Set yourself an alarm. But not in the morning. Set your alarm for 45 minutes before when you should get to sleep and allow yourself to sleep for a full 8 hours. If you adhere to that you’ll be surprised how many hours of free time seem to materialize.

      Study time + free time + sleep = happy and successful students.

      3. You have a false sense of security

      Photo credit: funnfun.in

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        You may think you’re being a diligent student, sitting there in the lecture, listening intently, copying down page after page of notes from the professor. You might even be following along and raise your hand here and there. But there’s a big difference between feeling like you understand something, and actually being able to reproduce it on a test.

        This is what we call passive learning, and it’s the best way to ensure that you’ll spend a lot of time and effort trying to learn new material, without actually being able to retain any of it.

        Quiz yourself.

        Don’t be fooled by your professor’s overly logical explanations. This dude already knows the material, so it’s easy for him to explain it in a way that others find understandable. The real challenge is whether or not you can do the same.

        If you’re wondering if you actually understand something, quiz yourself. Or better yet, explain it to someone (or yourself, but be warned: people tend to stare).

        As Einstein liked to say, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

        By routinely quizzing yourself, you’ll get a dose of reality of whether you actually know the material or not, instead of what most students do: assume they know it until the night before the test, when they proceed to freak out because they can’t do any of the practice problems.

        4. Not all study time is created equal

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          Fact: seven hours of studying over 7 days is much more effective (more learning per time spent) for understanding new material than 7 hours of studying in one chunk. This is especially true for technical courses with new jargon you have to internalize.

          Chunk your study time.

          The brain uses a ton of energy (20% of our resting metabolic rate), and there’s only so much you can expend per day. To maximize your retention of new material, you want to take advantage of both active learning and recovery.

          Because the brain consolidates new neural pathways during sleep, particularly during REM sleep, the more sleep cycles you intersperse between your study hours, the more likely it is that you will retain the material and be able to whip it out on test day.

          This also allows you to take advantage of spaced repetition. Instead of having to constantly review your material to keep it in the forefront of your memory, you can follow a cycle of ever-increasing time intervals between review sessions (the “forgetting curve”), decreasing the overall amount of time needed to re-learn material you might have forgotten from the beginning of the semester when the final rolls around.

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          5. The planning fallacy

          Humans systematically overestimate what can be accomplished in the short-term, and underestimate what can be accomplished in the long-term.

          Ironically (and sadly), we only have this problem evaluating our own tasks – providing a pretty accurate picture of how long things will take when evaluating someone else’s situation objectively.

          “Dude I’ve got this Calc final covered. Just need a couple days before to go over my notes. But you’re screwed for your Orgo class – better head to the library now or you’re never gonna pass.”

          Use the 50% rule.

          Estimate as conservatively as you can, how much time it’s going to take to study for your exam, assuming you start early and work consistently.

          Done?

          Okay. Now add 50% to that estimate.

          This will give you a more accurate picture of how much time you really need to allocate to starting studying.

          6. You think you have more study time than you do

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            Pull up your Sunday schedule. What do you see?

            Oh looks like I’ve got a big chunk of free time from 4pm to 10pm. Perfect, I’ll just squeeze in 5 or 6 hours of studying and then call it a night.

            Try again. It’s more like 2-3 hours.

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            This is another type of planning mistake: overestimating how much productive time we can extract from any given period.

            Things we tend to forget: we need to eat; we need to sleep; there will be interruptions (yea right like you’re actually going to shut off your phone).

            But another thing we fail to account for: the body goes through 90-120 minute activity cycles (called the Ultradian Rhythm). So even though you may be sitting there, highlighting your textbook for 3 hours straight, you really only have the ability to absorb material for 1.5 to 2 hours before you need a period of rest.

            Cut your estimated hours in half.

            If you think you have 8 hours on Sunday after the game to study, forget it. You actually have 4 or less when you take out time for eating, breaks, and normal daily activities.

            7. You can’t get motivated or focused

            A lot of us tend to sit around and wait…

            Waiting for the wave of motivation to strike us to finally get started on the homework assignment due in 24 hours, or studying for the midterm.

            Here’s the problem: motivation comes and goes, but the demands of school and learning and everyday life don’t. And if you’re relying on your motivation to keep you focused, everything you’re doing is going to be in a perpetual state of lateness and last-minute-ness, because there’s never enough motivation to go around.

            Focus on the process, with the end in mind.

            Why are you in school? Why do you want a degree? Get clear on exactly what your motivations are.

            But thinking about the future is not enough. That vision of the future that drives your emotional intensity needs to be linked to your daily activities. (e.g. “Each day I study for Calculus brings me one step closer to being a doctor and making a difference in people’s lives.”)

            What is the one set of activities each day that will virtually guarantee success in your coursework?

            And what can you do to organize your day, set up incentives, quit things that don’t matter, etc. to virtually guarantee you will do that one set of activities day in and day out, despite motivation?

            Featured photo credit: UBC Learning Commons via flickr.com

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            Last Updated on December 10, 2019

            How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

            How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

            It is hardly a secret that the key to successfully accomplishing one goal after another is staying motivated. There are, of course, tasks which successful people may not like at all, yet they find motivation to complete them because they recognize how each particular task serves a greater goal.

            So how to stay motivated most of the time? Here are 5 simple yet effective ways on how to stay motivated and get what you want:

            1. Find Your Good Reasons

            Anything you do, no matter how simple, has a number of good reasons behind it.

            You may not be able to find good reasons to do some tasks at first but, if you take just a few moments to analyze them, you will easily spot something good. We also have many tasks which don’t need any reasoning at all – we’ve been doing them for so long that they feel natural.

            If you’re ever stuck with some tasks you hate and there seems to be no motivation to complete it whatsoever, here’s what you need to do: find your good reasons.

            Even when you set goals, there needs to be reasons behind these goals. They may not be obvious, but stay at it until you see some, as this will bring your motivation back and will help you finish the task.

            Some ideas for what a good reason can be:

            • A material reward – quite often, you will get paid for doing something you normally don’t like doing at all.
            • Personal gain – you will learn something new or will perhaps improve yourself in a certain way.
            • A feeling of accomplishment – at least you’ll be able to walk away feeling great about finding the motivation and courage to complete such a tedious task.
            • A step closer to your bigger goal – even the biggest accomplishments in history have started small and relied on simple and far less pleasant tasks than you might be working on. Every task you complete brings you closer to the ultimate goal, and acknowledging this always feels good.

            2. Make It Fun

            When it comes to motivation, attitude is everything. Different people may have completely opposite feelings towards the same task: some will hate it, others will love it.

            Why do you think this happens? It’s simple: some of us find ways to make any task interesting and fun to do!

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            Take sports for example. Visiting your local gym daily for a half-an-hour workout session sounds rather boring to some. Yet many others love the idea!

            They like exercising not only because they recognize the good reasons behind it, but simply because it’s fun! At certain time of their daily schedule, they find going to gym to be the best thing to do, simply because nothing else will fit their time and lifestyle so perfectly.

            Depending on how you look at it, you can have fun doing just about anything! Just look for ways of having fun, and you’ll find them!

            A simple approach is to start working on any task by asking yourself a few questions:

            • How can I enjoy this task?
            • What can I do to make this task fun for myself and possibly for others?
            • How can I make this work the best part of my day?

            As long as you learn to have the definite expectation of any task being potentially enjoyable, you will start to feel motivated.

            Some of you will probably think of a thing or two which are valid exceptions from this statement, like something you always hate doing no matter how hard you try making it fun. You’re probably right, and that’s why I don’t claim everything to be fun.

            However, most tasks have a great potential of being enjoyable, and so looking for ways to have fun while working is definitely a good habit to acquire.

            3. Change Your Approach And Don’t Give Up

            When something doesn’t feel right, it’s always a good time to take a moment and look for a different approach for the task.

            You may be doing everything correctly and most efficiently, but such approach isn’t necessarily the most motivating one. Quite often, you can find a number of obvious tweaks to your current approach which will both change your experience and open up new possibilities.

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            That’s why saying “one way or another” is so common — if you really want to accomplish your goal, there is always a way; and most likely, there’s more than one way.

            If a certain approach doesn’t work for you, find another one, and keep trying until you find the one which will both keep you motivated and get you the desired results.

            Some people think that trying a different approach means giving up. They take pride in being really stubborn and refusing to try any other options on their way towards the goal.

            My opinion on this is that the power of focus is great, but you should be focusing on your goal, and not limiting your options by focusing on just one way to accomplish it it.

            4. Recognize Your Progress

            Everything you may be working on can be easily split into smaller parts and stages. For most goals, it is quite natural to split the process of accomplishing them into smaller tasks and milestones. There are a few reasons behind doing this, and one of them is tracking your progress.

            We track our progress automatically with most activities. But to stay motivated, you need to recognize your progress, not merely track it.

            Here’s how tracking and recognizing your progress is different:

            Tracking is merely taking a note of having reached a certain stage in your process. Recognizing is taking time to look at a bigger picture and realize where exactly you are, and how much more you have left to do.

            For example, if you’re going to read a book, always start by going through the contents table. Getting familiar with chapter titles and memorizing their total number will make it easier for you to recognize your progress as you read. Confirming how many pages your book has before starting it is also a good idea.

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            You see, reading any book you will be automatically looking at page numbers and chapter titles, but without knowing the total number of pages, this information will have little meaning.

            Somehow, it is human nature to always want things to happen in short term or even at once. Even though we split complex tasks into simpler actions, we don’t quite feel the satisfaction until all is done and the task is fully complete.

            For many scenarios though, the task is so vast that such approach will drain all the motivation out of you long before you have a chance to reach your goal. That’s why it is important to always take small steps and recognize the positive different and progress made. This is how your motivation can sustain in long term.

            5. Reward Yourself

            This is a trick everyone likes: rewarding yourself is always pleasant. This is also one of the easiest and at the same time most powerful ways to stay motivated!

            Feeling down about doing something? Dread the idea of working on some task? Hate the whole idea of working? You’re not alone.

            Right from the beginning, agree on some deliverables which will justify yourself getting rewarded. As soon as you get one of the agreed results, take time to reward yourself in some way.

            For some tasks, just taking a break and relaxing for a few minutes will do.

            For others, you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and even treat yourself a dessert.

            For even bigger and more demanding tasks, reward yourself by doing something even more enjoyable, like going to a cinema or taking a trip to some place nice, or even buying yourself something.

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            Your progress may not seem to others like anything worth celebrating but, take time and do it anyway! It is your task and your reward, so any ways to stay motivated are good.

            The more you reward yourself for the honestly made progress, the more motivated you will feel about reaching new milestones, thus finally accomplishing your goal.

            Mix and Match

            Now that you have these five ways of staying motivated, it is a good moment to give you the key to them all: mix and match!

            Pick one of the techniques and apply it to your situation. If it doesn’t work, or if you simply want to get more motivated, try another technique right way. Mix different approaches and match them to your task for the best results.

            Just think about it: Finding good reasons to work on your task is bound to helping you feel better; and identifying ways to make it fun will help you enjoy the task even more.

            Or, if you plan a few points for easier tracking of your progress and on top of that, agree on rewarding yourself as you go; this will make you feel most motivated about anything you have to work through.

            More to Boost Your Motivation

            Featured photo credit: Lucas Lenzi via unsplash.com

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